The Abraham Accords Under Strain – OpEd


The recent deterioration in Israeli-Palestinian relations is putting the Abraham Accord countries under pressure.

In signing up to the Accords, each of the Arab nations involved made it clear that they did not thereby reject their support for Palestinian aspirations.  They had simply altered their priorities. Instead of the traditional Arab insistence that solving the Israel-Palestinian dispute was a prerequisite for normalizing relations with Israel, they had  taken the pragmatic decision to normalize relations first, though progress toward the two-state solution remained a priority.

Back in March 2022 the Accords led to an unprecedented meeting in Israel attended by the foreign ministers of Israel, Egypt, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.  It became known as the Negev Forum.  At their inaugural meeting the members agreed to come together on a continuing basis, making the forum a hub for promoting multilateral cooperation across the Middle East in the fields of health, economy, climate change, water and security .

They decided to meet again in a year’s time, and Morocco undertook to host the summit in March 2023 in its capital, Rabat.  Over the following months the countries concerned held a series of meetings to plan this next forum.  But as the time drew near, sectarian tensions began to rise, given the overlap of Passover, Easter, and Ramadan, while rallies and strikes in support of Land Day were being organized by Palestinian activists in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.  Accordingly the summit was postponed.

New dates were announced from time to time, but for various reasons each failed to stick. Finally the second Negev Forum summit was scheduled for mid-July. 

 Then came the June 18 meeting of Israel’s cabinet.  The policy announcements that followed scuppered the conference, perhaps for good. The government declared that it had approved the construction of 4,500 new settlement housing units in the West Bank.  Gilding the lily, as it were, finance minister Bezalel Smotrich, noted for his hard-right views, had been granted full control over all settlement planning.

On the following day, June 19, whether at the urging of the US or on its own initiative, Morocco announced that the second meeting of the Negev Forum, due to be held in Rabat in July, had been indefinitely postponed. 

As disturbed as the Abraham Accord countries were at the Israeli government’s decision to expand settlement construction, Washington took it very amiss.  The US is “deeply troubled by Israel’s decision,” said State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller, repeating the administration’s opposition to the expansion of settlements and to unilateral actions that “make a two-state solution more difficult to achieve.”

The Israeli move on settlements will do nothing, either, to ease the interchanges between Saudi Arabia and the US on the possibility of Saudi joining the Abraham Accords. Any back channel negotiations that might be under way aimed at enhancing normalization of other states with Israel would be similarly affected.   

Meanwhile both the Palestinian leadership and Hamas are protesting at the determined steps Israel is taking to deal with the upsurge in terrorist activity over the past few months. Incidents are occurring on an almost daily basis.   

On June 19, during a raid on Jenin in the occupied West Bank, Israel used Apache helicopters to cover the evacuation of Israeli personnel engaged in a large-scale anti-terrorist operation.   The next day Hamas terrorists shot and killed four Israelis in a hummus bar.  Nothing but condemnation is appropriate for the incident on June 21 when scores of Israeli settlers attacked villages around Nablus and Turmusaya town, north of Ramallah, setting houses, vehicles and agricultural land ablaze.  No amount of provocation can justify indiscriminate violence against innocent civilians.  Much more appropriate was the IDF operation later that day which succeeded in taking out a terror cell in the West Bank using a drone.

With Israel’s domestic situation so volatile, it is not surprising if its Abraham Accord partners feel the need to reiterate their underlying support for Palestinian aspirations, though hopefully there is no slippage of confidence in the future success of the alliance.  What may be in the wind, though, is a change of emphasis.  The well-regarded news website Axios recently reported that the Biden administration, backed by several of the Abraham Accord states, seemed to feel that the name of the proposed standing conference – the Negev Forum – is too Israel-centric. According to US and Israeli officials, maintains Axios, the Biden administration thinks that using a more general name, or an acronym, would help convince more countries in the region to join.  

One such proposed name was AMENA — the Association of Middle East and North African Countries – until Morocco asked that the new name include the word “peace.” It was then proposed that the forum be called AMENA PD, or the Association of Middle East and North African Countries, Peace and Development.  According to Axios, no final decisions have been taken.

Although the future of the Negev Forum is currently hanging in the balance, a US State Department spokesperson recently sounded a note of confidence: “The Negev Forum demonstrates the promise and tangible benefits of regional integration, bringing the region together to discuss solutions to shared challenges.  We are continuing to consult with partners about a second Negev ministerial this year.”

Perhaps the announcement of its indefinite postponement will turn out to be less final than appears.

Neville Teller

Neville Teller's latest book is ""Trump and the Holy Land: 2016-2020". He has written about the Middle East for more than 30 years, has published five books on the subject, and blogs at "A Mid-East Journal". Born in London and a graduate of Oxford University, he is also a long-time dramatist, writer and abridger for BBC radio and for the UK audiobook industry. He was made an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours, 2006 "for services to broadcasting and to drama."

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